- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Natural Food Sources
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Water Tolerances
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Pathway Vectors
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Environmental Impact
- Threatened Species
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Ameiurus natalis Lesueur 1819
Other Scientific Names
- Ictalurus natalis Lesueur
- Pimelodus natalis Lesueur
International Common Names
- English: butter cat; greaser; Mississippi bullhead; mudcat; northern yellow bullhead; pollywog; white-whiskered bullhead; yellow cat; yellow catfish
Local Common Names
- Denmark: gul dværgmalle
- Finland: keltapiikkimonni
- France: barbotte jaune
- Germany: gelber katzenwels
- Italy: pesce gatto
- Spain: bagre torito amarillo
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
A. natalis, a species of bullhead catfish, is native throughout most of the eastern and central USA and south eastern Canada. Numerous introductions outside of its native range have occurred both accidentally and intentionally. The main impacts associated with introduction of this species are modifications to the water clarity due to the benthic foraging behaviour, predation and competition with other native fish species.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Metazoa
- Phylum: Chordata
- Subphylum: Vertebrata
- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Siluriformes
- Family: Ictaluridae
- Genus: Ameiurus
- Species: Ameiurus natalis
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
A. natalis is a species of bullhead catfish.
Ameiurus, Greek, meaning “privative curtailed,” in reference to the caudal fin lacking a notch; natalis, Latin, meaning “having large buttocks” (Simon and Wallus, 2004) and is possibly referring to the swollen nuchal region in spawning males (Holm et al., 2010).
DescriptionTop of page
A. natalis are typically olive or yellow/brown on top with a yellow or cream underside. They have white or yellow chin barbels, which differentiates them from other species of bullhead. The anal fin is long and fairly straight in outline, with 24-27 rays. The rays at the front of the anal fin are slightly longer than those at the rear. There are 5-8 barbs on the rear edge of the pectoral spines, making them moderately serrated. The caudal fin edge is rounded or truncate (almost straight). The fins are dusky and the anal fin commonly has a dusky stripe in the middle. The dorsal fin base lacks the dark blotch found in some other species of Ameiurus. The first gill arch has 13-15 rakers.
DistributionTop of page
The native range of the A. natalis is the Atlantic and Gulf Slope drainages from New York to northern Mexico and the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins from southern Quebec west to central North Dakota (Koel and Peterka, 1994; Stewart and Watkinson 2004) and south to the Gulf of Mexico (Scott and Crossman, 1973). A. natalis has been introduced into at least 14 states in the USA outside of its native range (Fuller et al., 1999), in addition to southwestern British Columbia (Hanke et al., 2006). A. natalis is present only in southern-most Quebec, and southern Ontario.
There is some disagreement with regards to the status of this species in New Hampshire. A. natalis has been recorded as native (Scarola, 1973; Scott and Crossman, 1973; Schmidt, 1986) but also as introduced (USDA NAS, 2015).
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 17 Dec 2021
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Canada||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Ontario||Present||Native||Present in southern provinces of Ontario|
|-Quebec||Present||Native||Present in southern-most provinces in Quebec|
|United States||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-New Hampshire||Present, Widespread||Recorded as both introduced and native|
|-New Jersey||Present, Widespread||Native|
|-New York||Present, Widespread||Native|
|-North Dakota||Present, Widespread||Native|
|-South Carolina||Present, Widespread||Native|
|-South Dakota||Present, Widespread||Native|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
The reasons for the introduction of A. natalis are under some deliberation but it is thought that this species has been intentionally stocked. A. natalis is considered of minor importance as a gamefish, but sought after for food. Intentional stocking has been reported as this species can be introduced into degraded watercourse due to their high tolerance to pollution (Klossner, 2005).
In Washington State, the first introduction of A. natalis was probably in 1905 in the lower Columbia River, when display fish were released following the Lewis and Clark 100-year exposition in Portland (Wydoski and Whitney, 2003). In British Columbia a single fish was found in Silvermere Lake in July 2005 (Hanke et al., 2006). It is likely to have been introduced accidentally with a shipment of largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) (Hanke et al., 2006). A. natalis has been introduced into Mexico as an aquaculture species (FAO, 1997).
There are reports of A. natalis being introduced into Italy in 1906 (Welcome, 1988; Holcík, 1991) however more recently this has been disputed due to a lack of reliable evidence (Kottelat and Frayhoff, 2007).
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
A. natalis is easy to identifty in shipments of tropical fish and fish to be stocked for anglers and is therefore unlikely to be accidentially introduced into new areas. Internationally this species is not very popular although it is possible that it may be used in aquaculture in the future and intentionally introduced into warmer climates overseas (G. Hanke, personal communication, Royal BC Museum, Canada, 2015).
HabitatTop of page
A. natalis is a bottom dweller and typically occurs in slow currents in shallow, soft-bottomed, weedy parts of clear warm lakes, ponds, reservoirs, or slow-moving streams or canals (Scott and Crossman, 1973). They may also be found in water with swift currents and can tolerate high levels of pollution (Jenkins, 2006).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Freshwater||Irrigation channels||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Freshwater||Lakes||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Freshwater||Reservoirs||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Freshwater||Rivers / streams||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Freshwater||Ponds||Present, no further details||Natural|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
A. natalis has a diploid (2n) chromosome number of 62 and haploid/gametic number of 31 (Clark and Mathis, 1982). Hybridization with A. melas and A. nebulosus is rare.
Spawning takes place in the spring and early summer. Both males and female A. natalis help build saucer-shaped nests in spots sheltered by vegetation, logs, rocks, or overhanging banks; occasionally nests are built in hollow stumps or natural cavities near submerged cover (Adams and Hankinson, 1926). Female’s lay anywhere from 300-10,000 eggs and a nest may support up to 700 eggs. It is therefore likely that females spawn more than once in a season. The females then guard the eggs for the first few days, and then both males and females aerate the developing eggs with their fins. Eggs hatch five to ten days after fertilization (Jenkins, 2006). Once hatched the fry are guarded by both male and female for about two weeks. Males guard their offspring until mid-to late summer when the young reach about 50 mm (Holm et al., 2010). Young A. natalis swim in compact schools early in their first summer and disperse later in the year. A. natalis reach sexual maturity between the ages of two to three.
Physiology and Phenology
A. natalis is able to withstand extremely low oxygen levels (0.1-0.3 ppm), has a wide tolerance of temperatures and is able to “hibernate” which allows it to survive serious winterkill conditions within northern sections of its native range (Cooper and Washburn, 1949). It has also been reported that A. natalis can survive out of water for a number of hours.
The average lifespan of A. natalis is around four years (Altman and Dittmer, 1962) however fish of up to seven years have been recorded. They can reach a size of 45.7-48.3 cm in length and weigh up to 3.2 kg (Jenkins, 2006).
A. natalis are fairly sedentary (Ball, 1944; Shoemaker, 1952). Tagged specimens in a ten acre lake were found to have travelled within a 91 m area from the point of release (Ball, 1944). In streams there is a tendency to travel greater distances upstream than downstream (Funk, 1955). Adult A. natalis are nocturnal and lie quiescent in weed beds or under cover during the day.
A. natalis are adaptive opportunistic eaters, consuming whatever is edible within their environment. They are omnivores consuming both plant and animal material. A. natalis locate most of its food via chemical sensory organs and have been observed eating crayfish, snails, insect larvae, other fish and plant matter. With this variability within their diet, food sources range between geographical locations and the type of water body. A. natalis is a social species and feeds primarily at night (Klossner, 2005). Since they are nocturnal, vision is not the primary sense when locating food. As with other bullhead catfish, A. natalis has barbels which act as an external tongue, with around 20,000 taste buds. These barbels are also used for locating food (Jenkins, 2006).
A. natalis are known to be a host species for creepers (Strophitus undulatus) and are also parasitized by leeches (Hirudinea) (Gray et al., 2001). They are known to host the larval stage (glochidia) of the clam Anodonta grandis [Pyganodon grandis] (Hart and Fuller, 1974).
A study of parasites of A. natalis in Texas by Mayberry et al. (2000) found the following: Cestoda: Proteocephalidae, Proteocephalus ambloplitis; Trematoda: Alloglossidium kenti, Cleidodiscus pricei, Phyllodistomum caudatum, Posthodiplostomum minimum, Gyrodactylus; Nemata: Spinectus carolini [Spinitectus carolini], Spinectus microcantus [Spinitectus microcanthus], Spyroxis contorta.
A. natalis can tolerate acidic waters with low oxygen and high carbon dioxide levels. In addition to ths it is eurythermal, ranging from southern Canada to northern Mexico.
Natural Food SourcesTop of page
|Food Source||Food Source Datasheet||Life Stage||Contribution to Total Food Intake (%)||Details|
|Benthic algae/weeds||Aquatic|Adult; Aquatic|Fry|
|Benthic crustaceans||Aquatic|Adult; Aquatic|Fry|
ClimateTop of page
|Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year||Tolerated||Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year|
|Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer||Preferred||Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers|
|Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter||Preferred||Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)|
|Df - Continental climate, wet all year||Preferred||Continental climate, wet all year (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, wet all year)|
|Ds - Continental climate with dry summer||Preferred||Continental climate with dry summer (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry summers)|
|Dw - Continental climate with dry winter||Preferred||Continental climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry winters)|
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Water TolerancesTop of page
|Parameter||Minimum Value||Maximum Value||Typical Value||Status||Life Stage||Notes|
|Dissolved oxygen (mg/l)||0.1-0.3||Harmful|
|Salinity (part per thousand)||Harmful||Intolerant of high salinity|
|Water pH (pH)||6.0-7.5||Harmful|
|Water temperature (ºC temperature)||28.4||Optimum||39.8 ± 0.92°C lethal|
Natural enemiesTop of page
|Natural enemy||Type||Life stages||Specificity||References||Biological control in||Biological control on|
|Lepomis macrochirus||Predator||Aquatic|Fry||not specific|
|Micropterus dolomieu||Predator||Aquatic|Fry||not specific|
|Micropterus salmoides||Predator||Aquatic|Fry||not specific|
|Pomoxis nigromaculatus||Predator||Aquatic|Fry||not specific|
|Sander canadensis||Predator||Aquatic|Fry||not specific|
|Sander vitreus||Predator||Aquatic|Fry||not specific|
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
Several natural enemies of A. natalis have been reported in its native range; however, by virtue of their strong pectoral and dorsal spines, adults are well protected from predation by all but the largest fish predators (Scott and Crossman, 1973). Members of the pike family (Esox species), walleye (Sandervitreus), large wading birds and some turtles may feed on adults (Scott and Crossman, 1973). Species of Alligator may eat larger adults.
Juvenile spines are less robust making them more susceptible to predation by fishes with a wider range in size. Within its native range, predators of juveniles include Micropterus salmoides, M. dolomieu, Sander canadensis, species of Ambloplites and Pomoxis including Pomoxis nigromaculatus and other catfish as well as aquatic invertebrates, leeches and crayfish. The eggs and small fry are predated by Lepomis macrochirus and other species of Lepomis.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
A. natalis are sedentary fish which may disperse naturally over short distances.
Accidental introductions have been reported via ecapees from garden ponds and aquaculture facilities during floods.
A. natalis have been intentionally introduced in new waterways by several pathways, including releases from aquariums and intentional stocking in open waters for food and game fish.
Pathway CausesTop of page
Pathway VectorsTop of page
Impact SummaryTop of page
Economic ImpactTop of page
A. natalis is considered good to eat and may be sought by some fishermen.
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Impact on Habitats
A. natalis are responsible for the muddying of the water in their search for food which may alter ecosystems. It has been suggested that this action makes it difficult for visual predators such as centrarchids to find food.
Impact on Biodiversity
A. natalis has a negative impact on native species decreasing both the abundance and diversity of species in an area (Hughes and Herlihy, 2012). A. nataslis is partially responsible for the decline of the Chiricahua leopard frog (Rana chiricahuensis) in southeastern Arizona (Rosen et al., 1995; Fuller et al., 1999).
Since A. natalis have few predators, are able to survive harsh environmental conditions and have a high reproductive rate they are often the only species in small, shallow lakes and can quickly overpopulate these bodies of water.
Threatened SpeciesTop of page
|Threatened Species||Conservation Status||Where Threatened||Mechanism||References||Notes|
|Gila nigra (headwater chub)||NT (IUCN red list: Near threatened)||Arizona; New Mexico||Predation||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2013a)|
|Gila robusta (roundtail chub)||NT (IUCN red list: Near threatened)||Arizona; California; Nevada||Predation||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2013b)|
|Lepidomeda vittata (Little Colorado spinedace)||EN (IUCN red list: Endangered); USA ESA listing as threatened species||Arizona||Competition (unspecified); Predation||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2008)|
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Has a broad native range
- Abundant in its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Is a habitat generalist
- Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
- Highly mobile locally
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Modification of natural benthic communities
- Negatively impacts aquaculture/fisheries
- Negatively impacts tourism
- Reduced amenity values
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Threat to/ loss of native species
- Competition (unspecified)
UsesTop of page
A. natalis is of low economic importance as a food fish, stocking into ponds, aquaculture and commercial aquarium trade. A. natalis is extensively used as a laboratory animal for toxic chemicals and medical experiments.
Uses ListTop of page
- Pet/aquarium trade
- Research model
- Sport fish
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
A. natalis is similar to the black bullhead, A. melas and brown bullhead, A, nebulosus. A. natalis can be distinguished from these species by its cream-white chin barbels. A. melas has dusky or black chin barbels, a rounded anal fin and fewer anal rays (19-23) and rakers on the first gill arch (15-21). A.nebulosus, is usually mottled on the side of the body, has dusky or black chin barbels and fewer anal rays (19-23).
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
Public awareness is essential for this species to prevent misidentification of this species with A. melas and A. nebulosus. Public awareness is important to prevent establishment of new populations and to prevent further illegal introductions of this species.
Open season fishing for A. natalis is possible and fish can be readily caught using a regular line, by lectrofishing or a beach seine. Targeted removal of the young-of-the-year when in tight schools would limit the impact this species has on the habitat.
Chemicals such as rotenone can be applied at a concentration of three parts per million to remove A. natalis but will also elimate any other fish which you may want to protect.
Gaps in Knowledge/Research NeedsTop of page
There is a lack of information on both the current and potential impacts of A. natalis in its introduced range.
ReferencesTop of page
Adams CC, Hankinson TL, 1926. The ecology and economics of Oneida Lake fish. Roosevelt Wild Life Annals, Vol. 1, No. 1-2, Syracuse University Bulletin, 24(26). 372-382
Ball RC, 1944. A tagging experiment on the fish populations of Third Sister Lake, Michigan. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 74:360-369
Brown CJD, 1971. Fishes of Montana. Bozeman, Montana, USA: Montana State University, 207
Burkhead NM, Jenkins RE, Maurakis EG, 1980. New records, distribution and diagnostic characters of Virginia ictalurid catfishes with an adnexed adipose fin. Brimleyana, 4:75-93
Clark B, Mathis P, 1982. Karyotypes of middle Tennessee bullheads: Ictalurus melas and Ictalurus natalis (Cypriniformes: Ictaluridae). Copeia, 1982(2):457-460
Cooper GP, Washburn GN, 1949. Relation of dissolved oxygen to winter mortality of fish in Michigan lakes. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 76:23 -33
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Fuller PL, Nico LG, Williams JD, 1999. Non-indigenous fishes introduced into inland water of the United States. American Fisheries Society Special Publication, 27:613
Funk JL, 1955. Movement of stream fishes in Missouri. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 85:39-57
Gray E, Lellis W, Cole J, Johnson C, 2001. Host identification for Strophitus undulatus (Bivalvia: Unionidae), the creeper, in the Upper Susquehanna River Basin, Pennsylvania. American Midland Naturalist, 147(1):153-161
Hanke GF, McNall MCE, Roberts J, 2006. First records of the yellow bullhead, Ameiurus natalis, a loricariid catfish, Panaque suttonorum, and a silver pacu, Piaractus cf. brachypomus, in British Columbia. Canadian Field-Naturalist, 120(4):421-427
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Tilmant J T, 1999. Management of nonindigenous aquatic fish in the U.S. National Park System. In: Management of nonindigenous aquatic fish in the U.S. National Park System, USA: National Park Service. 50 pp.
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12/02/2015 Original text by:
Michael Godard, consultant, Canada
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